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You don't need Twitter

“I need a Twitter account.”

Andy’s Digital Connector at Rooftop, and in that role he needed a Rooftop sanctioned Twitter account. I sent him to look at the social media policy and I set it up for him.


Well, not so much.

We set up a Twitter account, not so he could connect with his service users in a branded way, not so he could get to different audiences, but so he could be seen to have a Twitter account.

We shouldn’t be so excited about Twitter.

I’m a great believer in the idea that “It’s not enough to do, you have to been seen to be doing” sharing your stories in a compelling way, but Twitter troubles me as a tool for doing that.

There are top lists of Housing CEO’s on Twitter, there are blogs about Twitter strategy, there are seminars from experts about how to tweet in the housing sector, but very few people stand back and ask why we’re doing it.


I’ve been in the housing sector for just over a year, before that I was a full time communications consultant and media trainer (16 years at the coal face of BBC News) and I spend most of my time going into organisations helping them understand their audiences; who are you talking to and how do you talk to them. I still do.

The housing sector is often forward thinking, is often innovative, is often quick to embrace ideas from other sectors, and regrettably, often believes the last thing it was told by a man with a whizzy PowerPoint and oblong specs… especially if that PowerPoint is about something executives feel is important.

Note I say “feel is important”, there’s a vast gulf between something feeling important and something being important, ask anyone who reads their horoscope.

And then there’s professional Communications Teams. We, as a sub sector, can be guilty of getting a little giddy, of looking for the new channels because they’re inexpensive, because they’re our default, because they’re what we use.

Communicators are on Twitter so we’re familiar with the platform, it’s achieved some lovely results for us personally, and we’ve had those moments of cut through. (The day Graham Linehan retweeted a blog of mine I got 10,000 hits on my website).

Twitter is good for us. So because we’re familiar with it we feel that it’s important.

It’s not though is it?

It really isn’t.

Have a look at the people who follow your public HA Twitter account… I get quite excited when I see someone who doesn’t work in housing or housing allied trades. I get excited when a real person, who’s part of our community starts following us on Twitter.

I was buying tampons (for my wife) and there was a Twitter handle on the side of the box… I’ve had a look, and a product / class of products, used by 50% of the adult population, and the best-selling brand of that product has 14k followers. 14k.


Who the hell in their right mind would follow a tampon?

OK, it sounds like an easy shot to make, but you look at corporate accounts aimed at a core middle ground audience, Heinz for example, the world wide twitter feed, the great big food giant selling across the globe, has fewer followers… 4k fewer.

Who the hell in their right mind would follow baked beans?

Who the hell in their right mind would follow a housing association?

I learned very early on in my broadcast career that the only people who phone radio stations are the sort of people who phone radio stations.

The only people who follow housing associations are the sort of people who follow housing associations.

Twitter gets to sector and decision makers… no, scratch that, twitter talks to sector and decision makers, whether they listen or not is another matter completely.

Twitter is there to show to our partners, competitors, colleagues, what’s happening.

Posting on twitter is just a chin jut of recognition as we walk down the great big office hallway of life, it may even mean that you have a brief chat, but then you continue walking down the corridor jutting all the way…


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